Marvin Crenshaw is known for his civil rights and political activism with the local anti-apartheid movement in Dallas, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the civil rights movement.
Crenshaw was born in Austin, Texas in 1946. His own civil rights work was inspired by his 4th grade teacher, who was active in the NAACP, in Kansas. Crenshaw attended a segregated, but sports-oriented high school in Austin, Texas. While Crenshaw played football, he had a strong focus on scholastics and considered himself an avid reader. He liked the writings of W.E.B. DuBois and drew inspiration from his work on racial issues.
In 1968, after Army service, Crenshaw attended Texas Southern University. While he was at school he had a conversation with one of his friends about South Africa and admitted that he did not know much about the country or the situation unfolding there with the apartheid movement. However, his social awareness began to change when a year later in 1969 he met a student from South Africa when he was attending school in Minneapolis, MN. After creating a personal connection with someone from the country, South African apartheid’s horrors became more real. While Crenshaw had initially gone to Minnesota to play football, while he was there he joined the Black Panther Party as well as the Black Student Union and became a lot more politically active on campus.
Crenshaw’s involvement with the anti-apartheid movement gained more momentum after he left school in Minnesota to study at El Centro Community College in Dallas, Texas. While he was at El Centro he organized a Black Student Union, similar to the one that he had been involved with at school in Minnesota. In 1971, he became involved with the opening of the African Liberation Support Committee in Dallas. The committee brought in speakers to discuss issues pertaining to liberation movements in Africa. In 1973 Crenshaw renewed his involvement with the Black Panther Party by joining the Dallas chapter. The group attempted to foster support and education by bringing in speakers from the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe, and the Pan African Congress of South Africa. Initially the college frowned upon activist work, but Crenshaw states that they “eventually came around.” (Crenshaw). After leaving El Centro, Crenshaw transferred to UT-Dallas, but did not complete his degree.
With regard to South Africa, Crenshaw had the idea to bring the issue of divestment to the city council, about which he said “At first it was not well received. People wanted to talk about South Dallas, not South Africa” (Crenshaw). He went weekly to city council meetings to encourage divestment of the city funds. He worked with city council members Diane Ragsdale and Al Lipscomb to convince the council to see the importance of taking a stand against apartheid.
Crenshaw’s activism was not limited to international affairs; he also had an interest in local politics. He spearheaded campaigns such as veterans rights and voter education programs and launched five campaigns for a seat in the Dallas City Council starting in 1983 and continuing through 2017. This interest in the City Council was spurred as a result of violent police brutality that had taken place within Dallas. Crenshaw decided that he needed to take a stand and gain a position that would allow him to have the power to make legislative change that would trickle into the community.
In 1988, he became a co-plaintiff on the court case Williams v. City of Dallas. This was a voting rights case concerning the 8-3 voting system for the election of members of the Dallas City Council. The 8-3 system that was in place referred to eight single-member districts and 3 “at-large” places. “Under this system, no African-American had ever been elected to one of the at-large seats” (United States District Court). The lack of African-Americans being elected to the council was largely due to the fact that many minority communities simply did not have the funds to support an effective campaign for their candidates. In 1990, the U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer struck down Dallas’ 8-3 system when he ruled that electing three seats on a citywide basis effectively took away the power of the minority vote. One year later, in 1991, the first election with a 14-1 rule was held. The 14-1 rule allowed more minority representation on the city council because only the mayor was elected city wide and the 14 council members were selected from the community districts where they reside. Crenshaw and Williams were successful in their pursuits against the city council and won their case, changing how the city’s citizens elected their council.
In 1991 Marvin Crenshaw was also was recognized by D Magazine as one of the 50 people who made a significant impact on the Dallas community. Crenshaw’s tireless efforts on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement in North Texas were mentioned. “Crenshaw earned notoriety through years of haranguing the City Council about the city’s financial ties to South Africa (and setting a record for most times ejected from the council chambers). He also challenged alleged unfair hiring practices at El Centro Community College and was instrumental in the successful defense of Charles Tillis, an African-American man accused of shooting a Dallas police officer. In 1988 Crenshaw and Roy Williams brought suit against the city, claiming the at-large council election system discriminated against minorities. After three years of court debate in the various courts and rulings from the Justice Department, the 14-1 single-member district system was implemented” (Holston).
Mr. Crenshaw continues to be a civil rights activist in Dallas with a particular focus on police brutality and social justice movements–simply trying to “improve the lives of the people” (Holston). As part of that goal, he recently ran for, but lost, a Dallas city council seat in May 2017.
Interview with Marvin Crenshaw, June 17, 2016, at Southern Methodist University:
Marvin Crenshaw. Interview with Jill Kelly, June 17, 2016, Dallas, Texas, African Activist Archive. 2016. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://africanactivist.msu.edu.
The United States District Court. “Williams v. City of Dallas | 734 F.Supp. 1317 (1990).” Legal. March 28, 1990. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://www.leagle.com/
Holston, Bill, Nancy Nichols, Alex Macon, Dawn McMullan, and Michael J. Mooney. “50 People Who Made Dallas.” D Magazine. November 1991. Accessed April 25, 2017.